Now there’s a sentence I bet you never thought you’d see. Have your parents ever misplaced their keys? Walked into the room and forgotten why they were there? Put things away in a ‘safe’ place which means they are never found again or somehow got your name confused with that of the family dog? This is no exaggeration, mine actually have!
Often people associate this type of forgetfulness with a lack of intelligence in comparison to those who don’t suffer from these memory lapses or simply getting old. But what if forgetfulness was clever? There is evidence that has started to break down these stereotypes and have proven that forgetfulness is actually influenced by a genetic factor.
A number of genetic variants exist that impact the cognitive failure questionnaire (CFQ), which is a test designed to measure individual differences in proneness to these minor errors that can occur on a daily basis. This provides several different scenarios which represent memory, perceptual or psychomotor failure. In these experiments a higher CFQ score would suggest that there is more common cognitive failure and a lower score would indicate an ability to ignore any irrelevant distractors.
One of the main genetic variants is a gene located on chromosome 11 which is responsible for coding for the dopamine D2 receptor. There is one C/T single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) on this gene and results show that the different allelic variants have different effects on cognitive failure. People who possess the C/C variant of this gene SNP have a lower susceptibility to cognitive failure than those who possess the C/T variant. It was found that in the absence of the T-allele the CFQ scores were lower and it was people with the C/T variants where the CFQ score was at its highest.
Ok so now that the sighs of relief are over from people knowing that they are not any less intelligent than others, it is time to shatter one of the other stereotypes associated with cognitive failure. So let’s talk about aging…
Yes it is true that there are age-related declines in prospective memory (things we have to remember in everyday life, for example responding to an email), however many people can go as far to believe that it is an early sign of dementia, when really it isn’t.
Dementia is a syndrome that is caused due to damage in the brain and the most common causes are neurodegenerative diseases, conditions which cause a gradual loss of function in neurones of the brain, the most common being Alzheimer’s disease. There is very little indication that everyday cognitive failure such as forgetting to pay a bill or return a library book is an early sign of dementia. Some of the earliest evidence of dementia is to do with mild cognitive impairment which regularly impacts day-to-day memory and has a more serious effect than that of everyday cognitive failure, also affecting your attention, planning and language skills. So if forgetfulness is related to aging then it is more than likely to be as a result of healthy-aging as opposed to dementia.
So that’s a little bit about cognitive decline and the stereotypes associated with it. Hopefully we’ve shattered those stereotypes and proven that common forgetfulness doesn’t mean you’re unintelligent or that you’re knocking on dementia’s door and that forgetfulness is, in fact, really quite clever!
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Markett S, Montag C, Diekmann C, & Reuter M (2014). Dazed and confused: a molecular genetic approach to everyday cognitive failure. Neuroscience letters, 566, 216-20 PMID: 24598436
Olchik MR, Farina J, Steibel N, Teixeira AR, & Yassuda MS (2013). Memory training (MT) in mild cognitive impairment (MCI) generates change in cognitive performance. Archives of gerontology and geriatrics, 56 (3), 442-7 PMID: 23260332
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